Hippo Manchester
November 17, 2005


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Film: Derailed (R)

Clive Owen smolders as a man who comes to really, really regret his stab at infidelity in Derailed.

For every time Hollywood gives us an example of a woman murdered or otherwise made to pay horribly for the sin of liking sex (CSI alone could convince you that the only safe sex happens politely, in bed, at night, between a married couple in the suburbs), it tilts the scale back by offering up an example of a man made to suffer dearly for cheating on his wife. Rabbits are boiled, lives are ruined, lawsuits are filed and at some point Michael Douglas (or whoever) gets a facial expression that would seem to indicate that he’ll never even speak to a woman unrelated to him again. I suppose that if Hollywood’s view of sex has to be puritanical and punishing, at least it’s nice that it offers a smackdown to everybody.

Despite the fact that he’s played by an actor who is a hunk of fiery hot Heathcliffe-like passion, Charles Schine (Owen) has “poor schlub” written all over him. He and wife Deanna (Melissa George) enjoy the kind of relationship that comes of long-simmering resentments or, in this particular case, of tension and pain due to the severe illness of their daughter Amy (Addison Timlin). Currently on dialysis after rejecting kidney number three, Amy needs expensive medicine if she ever wants a life off the dialysis machine (which itself required a second mortgage for the family to purchase). So, sick kid, miserable job in advertising needed to save money to keep sick kid alive, marriage stressed by need to save money and by tension of sick kid — Charles might as well wear a “looking for affair” sign as he rides the commuter train into Chicago. He hungrily eyes the black-pantyhose-clad leg of Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston), a surprising woman he meets on the train. Surprising because she is both kind and aggressive (she’s in some sort of high-power finance), smart and big-hearted in her attitude toward her own family, successful but, like Charles, a little lonely as well.

They strike up a conversation, which turns into a multi-day flirtation, with Charles eventually offering to take Lucinda out to lunch. A few longing glances over glasses of wine later and both Charles and Lucinda are making phone calls to spouses about the need to stay late in the city. They head to a bar, drink away their inhibitions and decide to find a hotel to spend the evening.

It’s at this hotel that the movie begins its smackdown on Charles for cheating on the pretty wife and dying daughter. A particularly harsh and mocking mugger (Vincent Cassel) arrives and, due to his gun and his villainous French accent, proceeds to scare the bejesus out of the lovers.

Naturally, the violence does not end on that night and Charles finds himself preyed upon by the mugger, at risk now of not just bodily harm but the loss of all that’s dear — wife, kid and eventually even job and respectability.

What makes movies of this ilk particularly cheesy is the fact that any or all of the pain and suffering could have been avoided if at any point the characters acted rationally. If for one moment Charles had lifted his head out of the sweaty mess he’d created and said “hey, wait a minute” he could have saved himself all sorts of legal and marital troubles. These movies require their characters to be nitwits and yet want us to sympathize with them all the same.

This unnatural fit is even more unnatural in Derailed due to a particularly swoon-worthy mix of intelligence and brute force that emanates from Owen. He continues to slog through the material, acting and emoting even when all sense has gone out of his character. He attempts even to make us believe he is weak even when strength all but glows out of his eyes. The doughy mediocrity of a Michael Douglas or a Richard Gere is much better suited to such absurdity. Owen’s inherent talent makes the lousiness of his surroundings a little too apparent.